I am conscious that waiting times are often unacceptably long and of the burden that this places on patients and their families. In this regard, I am committed to improving waiting times for hospital appointments and procedures.
I hope to publish the joint Department of Health, Health Service Executive (HSE) and National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) Scheduled Care Access Plan 2019 shortly. This will set out commitments aimed at improving access for patients waiting for hospital operations or procedures, as well as patients waiting for a first Outpatient appointment.
As of the end of December 2018, there were 45,595 patients awaiting an outpatient appointment for the Children's Hospital Group. Of these 51% (23,492) were waiting less than 9 months, while 25% (11,288) were waiting more than 18 months.
A key element of the 2019 Access Plan is the stabilisation of the Outpatient Waiting List which remains a significant challenge. The HSE, in line with the National Service Plan 2019 will provide 3.3 million outpatient appointments, more than 1 million of which will be first outpatient appointments.
In 2019, the HSE will focus in particular on specialties with a high volume of referrals and large proportions of long-waiting patients including ENT and Dermatology. In addition, the NTPF, with an increased allocation totalling €75 million in 2019, will fund an additional 40,000 first outpatient appointments through weekend and out of hour’s clinics and ‘see and treat’ clinics.
The NTPF will deliver this additional activity in the health service by working with hospital groups and individual hospitals as well as private health providers to maximise the number of patients treated in both a public and private capacity. In this context, in 2018 the NTPF approved 504 Outpatient appointments for Temple Street as part of an initiative to support implementation of an extended working day in the hospital. The NTPF have also met with Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) to review Outpatient proposals covering the specialties of Cardiology, Ophthalmology, and Dental Surgery.
CHI advises that it has implemented a number of new and innovative initiatives to improve access to outpatient appointments for patients across a range of specialties including cardiology, dermatology, and orthopaedics. This includes additional clinics in ENT and dermatology, the appointment of additional staff in general paediatrics and ophthalmology, and the use of virtual assessment clinics for rheumatology.
In addition, the establishment of the Outpatient and Urgent Care Centre at Connolly Hospital in 2019 will result in 6,350 outpatient appointments being issued for the new facility next year, with projected full year outpatient attendance of 15,240 in subsequent years.